Chiang Mai – I absolutely love this city.
As soon as we arrived we were met with such a chilled out friendly atmosphere that all of our stresses (having to run through the airport and making it to our connecting flight by ONE MINUTE) melted away.
We stayed in a little guesthouse in the old part of town, which is like a square surrounded by a moat that used to protect the city. It was actually the perfect location as the old part of town is where everything happens and we were in walking distance of lots of shops, bars, clubs and veggie friendly cafes and restaurants. We also had a rooftop that we could lounge around and drink a couple of Chang’s on!
(Our host was a lovely Thai lady called Tina and is honestly one of the nicest people I have ever met).
One cafe we loved was called Funky Monkey and we ended up frequenting here for cheap Thai curry and coffee & banana smoothies, as well as a restaurant recommended to us by Claudia’s sister called Blue Diamond. The food there is incredible and the seating area is outside under trees and wind chimes with a small stream running through the middle – idillic! It also has a vegan bakery in the back that I couldn’t be kept away from…
Thai Green Curry is one of my favourite dishes ever and Blue Diamond was the best I’ve tasted (so far…), the spiciness was just the right amount that my lips and tongue were left tingling (I’m beginning to think I’m not going to able to have my food without chillies anymore…) but I could taste all the different flavours and yummy coconut milk.
Something we found interesting about Chiang Mai is the number of Wats on every corner! There were even 2 just on our street alone and practising Buddhist Monks everywhere. The architecture of these buildings is breathtaking, and covered in gold shining designs they are hard not to admire.
(Although bring a sarong or long shirt to chuck on as you have to be covered up and respectful at all times when visiting).
One morning we got up extra early and ventured to the market just after sunrise. Here you can see all of the locals making their bargain deals for the day and the monks being donated food parcels by passers by and local stalls.
Thai monks rely solely on donations they receive. Alms donations occur early in the mornings when the monks leave the monasteries and walk the streets carrying bowls that are then filled. Food is the most common donation made and is considered one of the most powerful religious acts in the notoriously Buddhist Thai culture.
It’s so interesting to see all the unusual food on offer including cockroaches, chicken feet and the biggest avocados EVER. I always love getting up early in new places, partly because the morning light is the best of the day and partly because you get a completely different crowd of early risers (and a lot less tourists).
Of course being in Thailand we had to go see some Elephants. Being a dream of mine since I was really young meeting these Ellie’s was a surreal experience! (A little more on this at the end of the post).
Obviously we made sure the Elephant Sanctuary we chose to visit was completely cruelty free and a haven for the animals in their wild habitat. Travelling for 2 hours out to the jungle we finally arrived and spent the morning feeding, bathing and playing with the Elephants before a shower in a nearby waterfall and a lunch of Pad Thai sat on rocks in the sun!
Being in North Thailand we were told we had to visit a sleepy little town in the hills called Pai. After about 3 hours by bus we made it to our hostel and were so pleasantly surprised!
The Suandoi Backpackers Resort is like a little escape in the jungle with treehouses, hammocks and even a waterfall running through it!
We spent our first day in Pai exploring Lod Cave, Pai Canyon and various waterfalls and hot springs that naturally cover this landscape.
Pai itself is a relaxed little hippie town with a street that runs through the middle and closed off to traffic, becomes a vibrant market every evening. We spent nearly all our time here eating amazing food, listening to talented jazz musicians, getting lost in the jungle and of course getting drunk with people we met from around the world!
There are definitely worse places in the world to be hungover than laid in a hammock under the sun – UNLESS you get sunstroke and spend the evening passed out with what feels like the worst hangover of your life (not being dramatic I swear).
Pai was so much fun and felt like a little secret, hidden in the hills of Northern Thailand! Definitely worth a visit.
Touching on what I mentioned about the Elephant Sanctuary I wanted to make a point about sustainable & animal friendly tourism.
As consumers we have the power to influence the market and the direction in which it takes. By doing small things every day and being mindful of where we put our money (or who we give it to) can really make a difference. Supporting conservation programs and charities helping to protect and care for species, like these elephants, is a much better way to spend your money rather than supporting cruel practises like elephant riding/ circus performances. Although sometimes it may feel like we don’t have much control over where the things we buy and experiences we choose to have come from and impact, making active choices can be powerful enough to influence a whole market and the direction it takes. For example, we have seen more elephant sanctuary’s in Thailand now than there are circus performances, acts and elephant rides, because we as consumers have chosen to disagree! We CAN make a difference.
Good bye for now Northern Thailand, we’re headed on a night bus to Bangkok!